Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: September 2010

Comments by Russ Jackson
Photos by Mike Palmer, Bob Snow, James Washington and Russ Jackson

Train 5 in the trench at the Reno, NV, station on August 19

This month we will track the On Time Performance of Amtrak Train 5 the California Zephyr that departed Chicago on August 21, as it traveled west to arrive in Emeryville on August 24. This was the tail end of the huge problems #5 and 6 had in August because of the flooding in Iowa. For the two weeks ending August 26, #6 was On Time into Denver nearly every day, while #5 was not on any of those days. On some days the delay was over 5 hours. The chart below lets you see the value to Amtrak of having all that schedule padding in each of its long distance trains. In this case, #5 started out on time and ended up being late only 50 minutes, but at one point was down over 3 hours.

Chicago: Departed: on time.
Galesburg, IL: Dp: 19 min late.
Otumwa, IA: Dp: 50 min late.
Osceola, IA: Dp: 2 hours and 34 min late.
Omaha, NB: Dp: 2 hours and 36 min late.
Hastings, NB: Dp: 3 hours and 10 min late.
Fort Morgan, CO: Dp: 3 hours and 16 min late.
Denver, CO: Dp: 2 hours and 13 min late.
Grand Junction: Dp: 2 hours and 2 min late.
Provo, UT: Dp: 2 hours and 11 min late.
Salt Lake City: Dp: 2 hours and 25 min late.
Winnemucca, NV: Dp: 1 hour and 59 min late.
Reno, NV: Dp: 1 hour and 53 min late.
Colfax, CA: Dp: 1 hour and 51 min late.
Sacramento, CA: Dp: 1 hour late.
Davis, CA: Dp: 58 minutes late.
Emeryville: Arrived: 50 minutes late.

. . . The Southwest Chief. On August 20, TRAINS magazine’s News Wire announced in an article by Fred W. Frailey that the BNSF had imposed a speed reduction for Trains 3 and 4 on three segments between Hutchinson, Kansas and Las Animas, New Mexico, totaling 180 miles of railway. This reduction was “the result of track inspection of that line” which found unacceptably rough track on those segments of historic 60-70 year old jointed rail. Amtrak had agreed to incrementally maintain the segments between Newton, KS, and LaJunta, CO, to passenger speeds but now finds that replacing those segments with welded rail would cost millions of dollars, which they do not have, and are stuck with the speed reductions that add 40 minutes to the schedule. That’s not too bad, but it is likely to be just the beginning as the BNSF has offered to permanently reroute the Chief onto its “Transcon” line which would bypass Albuquerque, Santa Fe-Lamy, and the other historic destination cities on the current route for cities that have not had passenger service since Amtrak’s inception in 1971. Amtrak President Boardman has said publicly that he is not interested in doing that.

. . . Sunset Limited and the Coast Daylight. Then there is the situation with Trains 1 and 2 and the proposal to make them daily. This writer can sadly say there is still no news either good or bad on that. We hope there will be action for the Amtrak board to take at its meeting in September or October, but knowing the Union Pacific and how long it has delayed the Coast Daylight in California we cannot be optimistic.

Trainset for 798/799 waits under the pedestrian bridge at San Luis Obispo in June, 2006.

The current status of that Los Angeles to San Francisco train, planning for which has gone on for over ten years, is still hooked into the three issues of 1) Completing track access negotiations with the UP and capital improvements the UP is insisting be done, ($43 million is programmed for this) 2) Securing train equipment, (Amtrak has agreed to provide equipment if the State can secure operating funds and access rights) and 3) Securing those operating funds ($7.4 million per year, with the item to be in the FY 2011-12 budget). Each continues to be a huge obstacle to extending current Pacific Surfliner Trains 798/799 north of San Luis Obispo, but we continue to admire and support the diligence of the Coast Rail Coordinating Council in its pursuit of this service. Arguments continue over the new train’s schedule.

. . . The Capitol Corridor. On August 16 the Capitol Corridor JPA announce it was seeking funds from the FRA for two interesting projects, 1) to improve track infrastructure between Roseville and Donner Summit, and 2) between the cities of Fremont and Newark. The first is designed to improve service to Placer County, and the second to improve service reliability in Alameda County. The Union Pacific supports both of these projects, as they will physically improve its railway in a joint public-private partnership.

Amtrak Capitol #723 arrives at the Fremont-Centerville station on August 8, 2010.

The second project would extend the Fremont/Centerville Depot platform and improve coordination with ACE and the future high-speed rail system. Capitol Corridor Riders President, Chuck Robuck, commented that while it looks like an extension to Reno is possible under this scenario (if the funds are obtained), “the last I heard UP has NOT expressed any interest in allowing more passengers beyond Auburn.” RailPAC has long advocated that Reno extension.

. . . Around the West. Still in California, on August 3 ground was broken for a new Amtrak station for the San Joaquins at Madera, another plan in the works for ten years. The $2 million project is expected to be completed in late October.

A date we overlooked for mention here was July 14, which was the 20th anniversary of the Los Angeles Blue Line linking L.A. and Long Beach.
Hard to believe it’s been so many years, and now that light rail system is a vital part of the transportation picture, a service that actually extends back into the PE Red Car era more than 100 years ago. . . . You have seen the “floating hotel” the Delta King which has been docked in the Sacramento River at “Old Sacramento” for many years? We learned this month that this year there are no overnight steamboats running on America’s rivers for the first time since 1811. The Delta King’s sister, the Delta Queen, is now a floating hotel in Chattanooga, TN. Other old ships are stored or their operators have “thrown in the towel,” according to Gene Poon, so “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.” . . . The proposed luxury passenger train, American Railway Explorer, which was to begin service under Philip Anschutz’s sponsorship, running multi-day trips originating in California with $900 to $1500 per day fares using rebuilt former GrandLuxe Express/ American Orient Express equipment. That plan has now been “mothballed.” . . . Texas has applied for $60 million from the FRA that would speed the fix for the infamous Tower 55 crossing of the BNSF and UP at Fort Worth, called one of the country’s most traffic-jammed freight intersections. Isn’t it interesting how Federal funds can be important in conservative places like Texas? A photo in the Dallas Morning News showed U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Lewisville) riding an inspection train with a smiling BNSF’s CEO Matt Rose, saying he would back the federal grant application. . . . City leaders in Las Cruces and El Paso have a goal to provide commuter rail service between those cities. They have met with the BNSF, and have come away with two opinions (can you guess them?) 1) the cost to start up “won’t come cheap,” and 2) they are excited the service has the potential to become a reality. Funds for a $1 million earmark to study this service are being pushed by New Mexico’s two Senators.

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